I Know You Are, But What Am I?

I’m an unapologetic Pee-wee Herman fan and especially enjoyed the comedic search for his beloved bike in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.  In an exchange over the whether his bike was for sale, Pee-wee resorts to the juvenile phrase “I know you are, but what am I?” as a come-back line while trading insults with his nemesis Francis.

Sadly, it seems to me that our national political debate has degenerated to the level of Pee-wee’s argument with Francis.  As a Democrat who most closely identifies with the Blue Dog Coalition and moderate Republicans (labeled RINOs by some in their own party), I am vexed by the hyper-partisan politics that dominate our country today.  I strongly believe that the solution to any challenge is rarely (or never) found at either end of the political spectrum.

However, I have also fallen into a trap.  Like the gradual, inexorable descent into an abyss, I have gravitated toward news outlets and political commentary that supported my world view and ignored or trivialized all others.  Like millions of others (on both sides), I was caught off-guard by the results of our national election and left wondering how my country could have gone so far off the rails of common sense and decency.  How could a man who, in my view, represents and caters to all the very worst traits of American culture rise to the most powerful office in land?

I’ve watched corporate media of all political bends as they spent hours and hours spinning the results this way and that, justifying their positions (and their very existence), and pointing accusing fingers in all directions.  But these machinations are little more than junk food for political junkies – and I want more.  I want to understand and challenge my own world views to better understand and appreciate the world views of those with whom I disagree.  Without better understanding myself, I can I possibly understand them?

So it begins today.  A quest to find myself.  I going to start with an article in The Guardian entitled “Burst your bubble: five conservative articles to read this week”.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

A Long Time Ago

rockhouse-lake

It was about three years ago when I was walking along this small lake in West Virginia, really no more than a pond fed from an old surface coal mine, that I decided to further my education and pursue a Master’s degree.  Shear folly, of course, since I was well past the age that anyone should be entering graduate school, but still…..

After several weeks of web browsing and soul searching, I found a program in Environmental Policy and Management at American Public University and enrolled the same day.  My first class started in June 2014 and, since then, I have read thousands of pages and written hundreds more on topics ranging from environmental law and ethics to restoration ecology and landscape planning.  Nearly every weekend for the past 2 1/2 years has been consumed with reading government reports, scientific studies, and course textbooks while writing an 8 to 10 page paper on any number of topics.

Now I am nearing the end of my program.  I have submitted my capstone thesis and, on Christmas day no less, I’ll receive my final grade.  It’s been an amazing and thought-provoking experience that left me very little time to do other things, like writing this blog.  Now that it’s over, I can’t wait to get back to exploring nature, bird watching, hiking and photography, and dropping by here from time to time to share my experiences.

One question I have been pondering is whether to stick with this old blog or construct a new one.  For now, I think I’ll stay here.  I have to prove to myself that I am willing to make the time to read and write.  With so many false starts over the past couple years, it seems the prudent thing to do.

Oh yeah…the pond.  It’s called Rockhouse Lake and has a Facebook page (where I found the photo).  I sometimes go for walks there when I’m visiting my family.

 

Wildlife Ethics & “Pedals” the Bear

Black Bear
American Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I am pursuing my Master’s degree in Environmental Policy and Management – my next class starts tomorrow.  Recent events in the local news involving an upright-walking bear have given me the opportunity to think about one of my most recent courses, environmental ethics, the learnings from which I attempt to apply to this topic.

Have you heard of the upright-walking bear in New Jersey?  The bear has been dubbed “Pedals” by some local residents and sightings of the bear have resulted in the establishment of social media pages, YouTube videos, fundraisers and media coverage.  From the information available through these sources, the bear has experienced injuries which resulted in the loss of one front paw and very limited use of the other front paw (accounts vary on the bear’s ability to use either front paw).

I became aware of this bear several week’s ago after receiving requests for information and assistance through a social media page I maintain (for a group of volunteer naturalists).  Since then, I have learned that the bear has survived either two or three winters (again, accounts vary) in this condition and is being monitored by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.

There are at least two Facebook groups which devote considerable time to discussing the bear – one which wants to “rescue” the bear and deliver it to a sanctuary in New York and another which wants the bear “left alone”.  For me, this is the significant ethical issue associated with this animal – should the bear be rescued, placed (essentially) into protective custody, and tended to by wildlife rehabilitators or should it be left in the wild?

When faced with an injured wild animal, I think most reasonable people would agree that there are three courses of action available to wildlife managers (like the good folks at NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife) – no intervention, treatment, or euthanasia.

Thus far, the folks in Fish and Wildlife have opted for the “no intervention” approach.  However, is that the proper choice?  In their essay Ethics of Interventions for the Welfare of Free-Living Wild Animals, J.K. Kirkwood and A.W. Sainsbury (1996) of the Zoological Society of London provide one possible framework for considering this question.  According to Kirkwood and Sainsbury (1996), the three choices (taken from the text of their essay) could be defined as:

(a) No intervention: If the animal is likely to recover without treatment, and if treatment would be an unjustifiable added stress, then there is no case for intervention.
(b) Euthanasia: If the animal is unlikely to recover, is judged to be in pain or distress and cannot be treated, then euthanasia is justifiable on welfare grounds.
(c) Treatment: There are two situations where treatment is justifiable on welfare grounds. The first is if an animal is likely to recover without treatment but its welfare is better served by treating than by not treating (e.g., by reducing the time to recovery). The second is if the animal is unlikely to recover without treatment and treatment (and subsequent management and release) can be accomplished with relatively little stress.

So, it would appear, Kirkwood and Sainsbury (1996) agree that there are situations where treatment of wild animals is justified on welfare grounds (emphasis added).  The factors which could be used to justify treatment of a wild animal include 1) the extent to which humans are responsible for the injury, 2) the extent to which the animal is under management and control (e.g., living in a wildlife management area vs. living in an uncontrolled environment), 3) the degree of “perceived suffering”, and 4) other cultural and economic factors such as the animals conservation status (e.g., endangered vs. common) or popularity (e.g., baby seal vs. common rat) (Kirkwood & Sainsbury, 1996).

From the available public information, I have not been able to determine the cause of the bear’s injuries and, from all accounts, it is free ranging (moving from wooded areas to suburban areas at will).  Is the animal suffering?  While no one can say with certainty that the animal is (or is not) experiencing pain, it does appear to be flourishing – it has reportedly gained significant weight recently and has survived at least two severe winter seasons under its current condition.  Finally, black bear are not considered an endangered species under either the U.S. or New Jersey laws.

So what does this leave us?

Popularity.

As Kirkwood and Sainsbury (1996) observed, popularity is a completely illogical consideration when deciding how best to deal with an injured wild animal, but it is one of the most powerful factors in influencing public opinion.  So what should be done?  For myself, I am in the “leave the bear alone” camp and agree with the position of NJ Fish and Wildlife that the bear should not be removed from its wild environment as long as it continues to flourish (e.g., gains weight, remains mobile, exhibits no obvious signs of physical suffering).

There are a number of people who disagree with that position.  However, I would challenge those folks to really think their reasoning behind wanting this bear removed from the wild.  Would there the Facebook pages, media articles, fundraisers, and public debate if “Pedals” was a common Norway rat (like those found sewers and subway systems around the world)?  What other animals should be singled out for special treatment?  Why?  And, perhaps most importantly, who gets to decide?

If you would like to read the Kirkwood and Sainsbury essay, you can find it by following this link or through this reference:

Kirkwood, J. & Sainsbury, A. (1996). Ethics of interventions for the welfare of free-living wild animals. Animal Welfare, 5, 235-243.

What do you think?  Should “Pedals” be removed from the wild and placed in an animal sanctuary because of his injured front paws?  Should the bear be left alone?  These are difficult questions which everyone should decide for themselves.

One note of caution – the comments on social media about this situation have often resulted in name calling and flaming among the participants.  While I encourage you to comment, please keep the posts civil and on topic.  I reserve the right to delete any post which, in my opinion, does not adhere to my request (without regard to the position taken by the commenter).

 

 

 

 

 

Big Year Birding – 5 Tips for a Fun and Successful Big Year

Here is a reposting from my NJ Big Year Blog – timely information for anyone planning a big year!

My New Jersey Big Year

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Are you thinking about doing a big year in 2014?  Believe it or not, there’s still time to plan for a fun and successful birding year.

I have received questions about and requests for tips on how to plan and prepare for a big year.   As my year is coming rapidly to a close, I thought I’d offer my thoughts on planning for a big year (or big day or big month, whatever you have the appetite for).

Let’s start with GOALS –  why do you want to do a big year and what do you want to get out of it?  There are as many reasons for doing a big year as there are birders.  Are you doing this for personal achievement, fun, fund-raising, or competition?   Do you have a “magic number” of species that you hope to see?  Are there particular areas you would like to include or exclude in your birding activities?  …

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Life Gets Busy – Sometimes

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Happy New Year’s Eve!  It has been a few months since my last post and, yep, it has been busy.  But I am missing my blog and that’s probably a good thing.  As I make up the list of stuff I want to change for 2016, being here a bit more ranks very high.

Here’s a shot of one of my favorite lighthouses – Barnegat Light.  I was there a few days ago with a group of friends, birding along the bay.  The weather patterns of the past few weeks have been very unusual, unusually warm, and the “regular” winter birds were not there in the number or variety that we anticipated. Still, it was a very good day – a bad day of birding is better than a good day at work!

I will get deeper into the reasons for my absence in following posts.  Until then – I hope you have a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

NJ Pine Barrens Flowers

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Pine Barren or Golden Heather

I was fortunate enough to spend some time last weekend birding in the NJ Pine Barrens and several of the spring flowers in were full bloom.  This beautiful golden flower is known as Pine Barren Heather or Golden Health (Hudsonia ericoides).  Pine Barren Heather is a small shrub which grows in dry open sandy areas throughout the pine barrens and several plants were in full bloom last weekend.

Sand Myrtle
Sand Myrtle

Sand Myrtle is another low flowering shrub that grows in sandy patches, but prefers wet areas over dry.  Even though it has been a relatively dry spring, these lovely white-flowered shrubs were blooming in many of low wet areas I walked through this weekend.

I hope you enjoy the flowers….I took the photos with my cell phone as I walked from spot to spot during one of my bird surveys for the New Jersey Audubon.

Until next time….

Greg

 

 

 

 

 

Words Matter or Word Matters – Skeptics or Deniers

Source: http://forecastthefacts.org/
Source: http://forecastthefacts.org/

This is a topic that is much, much larger than a single blog posting – but that’s okay.  We have got to start someplace.

I mentioned in my last post that I am enrolled in a MOOC entitled “Making Sense of Climate Science Denial” and one discussion topic focuses on the characteristics of and differences between skepticism and denial.

Why does the choice between these two words matter?

Valid question – let’s explore some of the possible answers together.

John Cook, Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, Australia, offers the following explanations for the importance of choosing the right word to describe a person’s stance on a scientific question (in this case, climate change and global warming).  According to Cook (2015), skepticism is an integral part of the scientific method and, as a result, scientists are skeptical of new claims until the evidence supporting that claim becomes overwhelming.  A person who denies well-established science, such as the evidence supporting climate change and global warming, first reaches a conclusion and then rejects any evidence that conflicts with their beliefs (Cook, 2015).  As John Cook argues, skepticism and denial really are “polar opposites” (nice turn of a phrase, don’t you think?).

John Cook isn’t the only person, or even the first, to concern himself with the topic of scientific denialism and how the scientific community ought to respond.  Pascal Diethelm and Martin McKee (2009) found that science denial consisted of five characteristics, including fake experts, logical fallacies, impossible expectations, cherry picking, and conspiracy theories, and has been used by deniers to support their rejection of a wide range of scientifically valid studies on human evolution, the link between smoking and cancer, and human-caused global warming.

There are other blog posts, peer-reviewed papers, and articles in the popular press which toss this issue around in much greater detail – too much detail for a single blog post – and I would encourage you to take some time and research the topic for yourself.  There are a number of good search engines for doing scientific research and one of my favorites is Google Scholar.  It can be challenging to find an entire paper posted online, particularly papers which have been published in peer-reviewed or scholarly journals.  However, a quick trip to your local library may help you to find a copy of that paper or, if you are lucky enough to be a student or work at an educational institution, you can probably retrieve papers online through your institution’s library.

What do you think?  Is it a big deal to use the word “skeptic” to describe someone who denies well established science?

I believe it is a big deal because influential climate change/global warming deniers try to label themselves as “skeptics”, suggesting that their denial has scientific merit. The popular press does a very poor job distinguishing between these terms as well, adding to the confusion of the general public about the differences between skepticism and denialism and, worse, the level of scientific consensus associated with global warming and climate change.

What is the level of scientific consensus for human-caused global warming?

That sounds like a great topic for a later forum posting, don’t you think? (Spoiler alert – it is huge!)

So do I, so until next time…….

Greg

References:

Cook, J. (2015, April 22). Taking back skepticism [HTML document]. Retrieved from http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/taking_back_skepticism

Diethelm, P. & McKee, M. (2009). Denialism: What is it and how should scientists respond? The European Journal of Public Health, 19(1), 2-4